Who are journalists and where can you find them, locally? COVID leads to village mentality

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast
Social media is fantastic in that it has no geographical boundaries. But for the same reason, social media is appalling, because it has no social geographical boundaries. With platforms like Facebook and Google Ads, posts can be targeted to a certain city or demographic, and that’s very powerful. But what about media relations? How does a local business get the word out? That’s where public relations comes it. Often, PR is thought of as being just a generic media pool, but it’s deeper than that, and a key part of any public relations campaign is reaching out to journalists.

Currently, there’s a fundamental shift in most workforces as people as starting to develop a preference for proximity or a village mentality, where they want to live, work, and play all in one environment without the need to take a car, plane, or bus to get to work and other places. So, it can be a challenge for a business to get noticed. Signage, to some degree, can address that. Although it has almost been lost in this digital age, banners on the street and posters on windows are some ideas that are affordable and appealing to people in the area that might see it as they make their way around town. Using local tools, Google My Business is a free and easy one to use and signage and banners are helpful too, but what about looking at the media?

Why local news sites are good for small businesses

A new network of hyperlocal news sites in the UK has been developed by a man named Karl Hancock, who was inspired to take up the project after being in the city. He was also one of the judges on the TV show Dragon’s Den. He is a young computer programmer who had launched Nub News in Bridgewater as a hobby whilst he was at the University of Cardiff. Karl Hancock is actually one of the few people hiring journalists, and he’s focusing his efforts on towns with populations of between 5,000-100,000; in other words, cities or towns which are not served by the large regional titles like the mainstream news, and they create what are effectively local newsletters. He is signing around 200 journalists with the aim of having 700 news sites around the UK over the next 4-5 years. He believes there’s a demand for hyperlocal news without the intrusive advertising and pop-up surveys, and he wants to delve into the community and talk to the people that really matter.

100 years ago or so, newspapers were local. They were newspapers like the Kentish Gazette, which was originally just for Canterbury, and then it was bought up by the Kent Messenger that brought in Herne Bay and Whitstable and Margate, and got the economies of scale of a few journalists and printing. Now, it’s coming back full circle, so it’s interesting to see what local media channels are going to pick up, in the UK at least. In America, it’s more about syndicated news with local advertising, while what’s happening in the UK is actually local news with local advertising, so they’re fundamentally different. 

The best platforms to find journalists

If you’re looking for journalists, you can try the Resource Centre, which is for Brighton and Hove in Sussex. They have about 800 local groups, and these include play groups, environmental shops, residents, art associations, and you can contact them if you’ve got stories. There is another website, wiki.openrightsgroup.org, which is a free-to-use wiki source that will give you media contacts in the UK. There is another website called The Local, which is a news brand for, they call themselves, modern pioneers looking for daily independent reporting from around Europe. The head office is based in Sweden, but it appears to be manned by all manner of nationalities. According to their website, they want their news to be sourced locally and not delivered through the filter of a national or international news brand thousands of miles away, and they have 7 million readers each month with the profile of mostly well educated and well informed readers. They deliver all kinds of information: political, social, economic.  Evidently, people are feeling disconnected from what they’re reading in their national or international news, and they want to get back to being local.

As you promote your business, The Local will have stories related to your town or your village, and the Nub News websites will be relevant to your local area. This is important, because the media on the national titles are increasingly stretched, but also, they may or may not have enough audience for your story in order to make it interesting for them to publish. If you are interested in finding national stories or people from BBC, on wikipedia.org, there is a list of BBC news reporters and news readers. Some of them have got their contact details, but you can also reach out via bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/enquiries. This is actually the main media putting out for you a place where you can find them.

If you are interested in a particular magazine, especially in a niche, for instance, in farming, in agriculture, in manufacturing, or in plastics, these vertical trade titles and your consumer titles will all list somewhere a media contact. There is no better way to build a media list than to go to the media you’re interested in and find those media contacts. Almost always, the media puts their contact details on the site or a Twitter handle. Many media and magazines will include what they call a masthead, which is a list of journalists at the back of the publication if it’s a print one. Sometimes, on the inside front cover, there will be the details of the editor and the publisher.

The media will also share their LinkedIn profile, as that is a good way to learn more about them. Freelance publications, publishers, or journalists will always be on the hunt for a story that will catch people’s attention, and so they’ll be promoting themselves on social media and making themselves available. You can also use sites like Journolink (which has 10,000 journalists), Cision, Prowly, or ResponseSource, which all require a fee to avail of their services. In exchange for that, you will get access to a big media database, but realistically speaking, how many media people are you going to talk to? These platforms are helpful if you’re running an agency and you need to reach out to a different cohort of media everyday or week. But for most business owners, you might only need the top 10-15 media in your niche. The next steps would be to find and build them into an Excel spreadsheet and keep a list of stories that they’ve been running so you can eventually reach out to them.

Anxiety Culture is another website with a list of media contacts, which are mainly the BBC and the Guardian Independent. On there, they’ve published the main media outlets’ contact details along with the pitch that if you’re upset with what they’re writing, you could tell them directly via their contact details. It may not be the best way to complain, but it certainly gives you the contact details for free. There’s also another useful one called media.info that has 7,000 media titles. It’s run by an Australian company, but it’s worldwide. What’s interesting and a little bit different to the models like Prowly and Cision is that the media have listed themselves. They list what they’re interested in and they display their contact details. So, if you want to know about the media, there are a number of ways that you can do it. You can go to the titles you’re interested in and use the masthead to find them, you can go to social media and find them, you can go to LinkedIn, or you can use these databases, some of which are free and some of which are paid for. If you’re also interested in finding out what journalists are writing about in your industry, you can go, in the UK, to the Press Gazette. This is like an industry newspaper where journalists are featured. Another place you can look for journalists or find out more about journalism is the National Union of Journalists, which was founded in 1907 in the UK, and it’s the biggest journalist union in the world.

Important statistics about journalists you should know

In 2016, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published a survey showing that most journalists entering the trade today will have a bachelor’s degree, probably a master’s degree, that they’ll most likely be white, and with a one-in-five chance of earning less than £19,000. This means that 20% of journalists earn just about the living wage. 45% of journalists are female, and they are less well paid than their male counterparts. So, ironically enough, this industry may be slightly sexist and also not fully representative of the racial mixes. In the UK, black Britons are just 0.2% percent of the media pool, yet they make up 3% of the UK population.

This report found that more than half of journalists work online and that the proportion working in print has fallen from 56% to 44%. Those working exclusively online receive less pay than those working in print, and so it shows that more and more journalists are moving online but are earning less, despite the fact that they produce 50-60 (or more) stories per week from the hundreds of pitches they are sent. It’s a phenomenal work rate for journalists who are often young and underpaid, but very academically qualified.

In the UK, 94% agree that they should adhere to a code of professional ethics, but most believe it was justified to pay for confidential information when it’s in the public interest. This is compared to only 5% of American journalists who feel that they should pay for confidential information. Furthermore, 81% in the UK said they would use confidential information without permission compared to 58% in America if they believed it was in the public interest, so the UK is still defending press freedom. According to labor statistics, there are 64,000 journalists registered in the UK. In America, according to the census, in 2011, there were only 46,000 reporters nationwide, but that had gone down to 32,900 by 2015. In America, the number of people who are qualified or claiming to be full-time journalists seems to have actually gone into decline. 

As you think about the media, remember who it is that you’re pitching to. They’re most likely well educated but not very well paid according to their educational attainment. They’re probably white and middle class, and if they’re women, they’re earning less than their male peers. So, before you think about sending a press release to a wide audience, look at how your business and your lifestyle post-COVID can become more local. If this is the case, then actually, PR should get easier, because there are people like Nub News creating local media again with stories that are more compelling to their readers if they have an “And, But, Therefore” as discussed previously.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

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